Good Times: Keep a Winning Attitude, But Don’t Get Complacent

Poll watcher, Nate Silver brings the kind of news that Obama supporters have been waiting for for what seems like an eternity (even if it only lasted a couple of weeks).

Not only is Obama back on the upswing, but McCain may be in some trouble.

I have to admit that Nate’s FiveThirtyEight is starting to make me a little lazy when it comes to polling analysis.  Why bother when he does it all for me?  Anyway.  The interesting thing is that what Nate seems to be confirming are dynamics that were identified a few days ago, and at least in two of the three instances could have been predicted weeks ago.

Behind the current shift in momentum, Nate points to three prime causal factors:

-The end of a bounce.  McCain announced a very controversial running mate and had a convention in a very short time frame.  There was absolutely no reason why he wouldn’t have gotten a bounce.  But that’s what it was; a bounce, not a permanent shift in the mood of the electorate.

-Palin fatigue.  I’ve commented on it, and many beside myself have predicted it, but Nate provides some empirical data that this is indeed taking place.  Aggregated over four daily trackers, Palin’s favorability has plummetted and she now sits as the lowest of the four national ticket candidates.  Now, I’m fond of saying that people don’t vote for the number 2 slot on the ticket, but I also think that it’s feasible for people to vote against the number two spot on the ticket.  It’s going to depend upon how unpopular that candidate is.  Right now I don’t think national opinion of Palin is near low enough to bring that about, but if the nation collectively has an “Oh crap, this woman could possibly run our country!!!!” moment, that could prove to be a significant problem for McCain.

-Wall Street collapse.  This is, of course, the one thing that couldn’t have been predicted a couple of weeks ago (or it could have been… I’m no economist).  But the interesting thing here is that John McCain was already on the losing end of the issue.  To compound this, McCain has engaged in empty, yet populist rhetoric that is not connecting, while Obama has appeared both in command of the facts, and presidential.  A further argument could perhaps be offered that even if this wasn’t expected as a specific event, both campaign teams should have been able to at least prepare for it should something of this magnitude occur.  In this instance it is clear which campaign team did the most preparing.

And so Obama supporters have had the opportunity to breath a sigh of relief.  And as I said, most of this stuff could have been predicted.  Bounces are bounces, they happen, and if you don’t expect them to happen, you really shouldn’t get too involved with politics.  Palin was a media circus for a bit, but in all reality, as I have theorized at length before, she simply had very high standards to meet, and I have little faith in her ability to meet them.

My friend, Fester, has perhaps one of the best analogies what happened over the course of the two weeks, and where we need to be in the future:

I’m a Red Sox fan Democrat.  I’m also a Red Sox fan in general.

What do I mean by this? 

Simple, until 2004, both Red Sox fans and Cubs fans expected their teams to lose.  They often lost in amazingly bizarre ways.  Please, don’t let me go down this memory lane of Pedro being kept in for one extra inning or worse, Bill Buckner’s fielding.  The pain is too great.

Since that pain is to great, panic and uncertainty along with dread fulfilled the fans of these two teams whenever it looked like they could blow it again.  August and September were never fun months no matter how much hope there was in May or June. 

And then the Red Sox won the World Series.  WHAT THE HELL! Millions of world views had to change as Boston fans became use to winning (the Patriots success has help also).  This realization that the Red Sox could and can actually win the World Series without blowing it despite a setbacks has split the Sox fans from the combined miserable commiseration with Cubs fans.  Sox fans now expect to win.  (I have doubts about the bullpen against the Rays though this year.)

So what does this have to do with Democratic politics?  Older, and more experienced Democratic opinion leaders are Cubs fans — they are used to losing and they are used to blowing it on dumb things — sighs, windsurfing, voting for the damn war in 2002 so they can talk health care.  So a natural convention bounce and then a bit of a lag appearance in the state polls re-affirms their past experience of Democrats operating in a conservative leaning environment where the default assumption is to lose.  Gnashing of teeth, breaking out the sackcloth and cooking up some ashes ensued.

Younger Democratic activists and opinion leaders are used to winning. We supported Herseth in South Dakota’s special election in 2004, Chandler’s special election in deep red Kentucky in 2004 as well.   We lost at the Presidential level in 2004, but we won the intra-party fight of 2005 for the DNC.  Our strategic vision of challenging 435 seats in 2006 worked.  Not every fight has been a win (see Dean ‘04 and Paul Hackett in OH-2) but there is an expectation that winning is a reasonable goal.  Daily fluctuations are stressful but are not the signs of a collapse.

This tends to go straight to the heart of my personal emotions, and periodic posts that I have recently written.  There’s a difference between pretending you’re down so you don’t get cocky, and getting morose every time the polls turn against you, especially now at a time when everyone has a blog.

The main problem is that the general malaise ends up becoming a part of the narrative, which ultimately ends up becoming canabalistic as the major de-energizing factor of the campaign turns out to be disheartened supporters.

People who feel like they are losing, but can win, will put forth the work necessary to win.  People who feel like winning is an impossibility just give up.  Unfortunately there are far too many “Cubs fans” out there who skip the down-but-not-out mode and go straight to the OMG-WE’RE-GONNA-LOSE mode.  This is especially ridiculous when people start tuning up for the death march during perfectly predictable and understood phenomena that occurs throughout an election cycle.

But while I’ve just went on a tear over attempting to maintain a winning attitude, the very last thing we need is complacency.  It’s true, if the polling trends keep up in their current direction, and Obama can spend 80% of the rest of the election cycle talking about the economy, there should be no reason to fret.

Yet, one should never expect things to go as desired.

The thing that bothers me specifically is foreign policy and national security.  I’ve no lack of faith that Obama is better versed and well equipped to debate McCain and win on the issue in a fair fight, but what we already know is that such a fight will be anything but fair.

McCain’s Spain gaffe, for instance, is not an isolated incident, but is instead a part of a broader string of foreign policy gaffes and missteps, all of which should together paint the candidate as, at best, blundering when it comes to foreign policy.  This obviously isn’t the case.

The first reason why complacency must be avoided at all costs is because if the focus of the election becomes national security, this election will turn into an uphill battle real quick, and the reality of the two candidates won’t change that one bit.  Given time and a proper response, Obama could feasibly shift the debate in his favor, but McCain will undeservedly have the upper hand because he is a former POW, and, ironically, is a Republican.

The second reason why complacency must be avoided at all costs, even during this polling upturn, is because Obama will win this election on the ground game, first and foremost.  It will take the tireless work of volunteers to put him over the top, and getting complacent can easily transform into, “eh, I don’t really need to go and make phone calls today.”

Wrong answer.

So, yeah, things are looking up, and we should keep a winning attitude, but never, ever, ever kid yourself into thinking this thing is in the bag.

2 Responses to “Good Times: Keep a Winning Attitude, But Don’t Get Complacent”

  1. DrGail says:

    Okay, so now I’m really confused.

    After reading the analogy, I’m clearly a “Sox fan” because I know that Obama can win and am already relishing the immediate celebration as well as the turnaround in the country when that happens. We’re donating money and making phone calls and going on canvassing trips to Wisconsin. We’re pumped and optimistic but we’re not complacent, not by a long shot.

    But I’m really a Cubs fan.

    No, I mean I’m REALLY a Cubs fan, as in I love baseball and the Cubs are my team.

    And this year they’re really going to make it to post-season play (their magic number is 2 right now) but of course I know the curse of the goat may make them flame out in the post-season. I’m prepared for it. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’m prepared for it.

    So which am I? A Sox fan or a Cubs fan?

    I’m soooooo confused!


    Just be glad you’re not a niner’s fan… that leads to being very disgruntled and weepy for the glory days.


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